I am kind of like this mushroom that I found growing off of the side of a stump in my backyard. I am, thankfully, not a fungus. But, I am alive, and I do count on other lives to sustain me. Only life can give life, and what one puts out into the world predicts what one will receive from it. Think of it like a boomerang.
I have, for many years, been a “people person.” I like people. I find them interesting, and I wonder about them. I find subjects like history, sociology, and psychology fascinating because they teach me not only what people do but also why. And part of me is a scientist. “Why” is my question, and I quite often formulate a hypothesis. However, the answer that I seek is a person’s story.
And I want my story to be one hell of a boomerang.
Lately I have started thinking about my own story. Like most people, I am an amalgamation of experiences, ideas, beliefs, dreams, and a dash of chance. I tell stories, and I try to make sense out of humanity through that common thread. Everyone has a story.
But when it’s all said and done, I wonder what kind of person I will be remembered as, and who I am in the larger sense. I am not a “lost” twenty-something on some big experimental journey to “find myself.” Instead, my quest is outward. What do I want to project into the world, and even more, what do I want to do with it? I ask myself “what story do you want to leave behind?” Those are the stories that matter.
I had the pleasure of seeing the inspirational Marina Morris speak last October at TEDx at Oakland University. And then, much to my great joy, she spoke again this month at my department’s annual end of year conference. Both times, she spoke about finding her “sixty second story” and how she did it.
Morris uses the acronym s-t-o-r-y to explain it.
S equals what she stands for. T equals what toughens her up. O is what she has overcome. R is what she remembers, and Y is what she yearns for.
Now, as I sit outside, with lazy dogs at my feet, iced tea at the ready, and the sounds of Glenn Miller, wind chimes, and my neighbor’s yard projects all as background noise, I think I will take on my own sixty second story.
What do I stand for?
I feel like I could answer this question 100 ways and they could all be “kind of?” answers. But one thing consistently stands out.
Kindness. I stand for kindness. For doing, acting, speaking, and living in a way that is harmonious all around me. I try, and sometimes I fail, but I do try to be the kind of person that my grandchildren could one day brag about. Even if only to themselves. But I do what I think is right, even if that leaves me standing alone. I’d rather be alone and principled than surrounded and without any depth of character.
What toughens me up?
This is the hardest of Morris’ questions, because I am not entirely sure how to answer it. My immediate answer is a question: “in what way?” But, the answer I could commit to is letdowns and disappointment. Those toughen me up.
When people I count on, even in slight ways, don’t show up, they write themselves out of my story. If proven to be anything less than “all in”, don’t show up for round two. I’ve learned from disappearing family members and friends with agendas. I can’t help that they once hurt me, but I can, and have, rebuilt my definitions of family and friendship.
What have I overcome?
Nothing. That was my gut reaction. My life, up to this point, hasn’t been fraught with difficultly. I had a happy childhood. My parents have always been stable and I had a solid foundation. I wasn’t a lost young adult without direction or guidance. I’ve always been driven and I’ve known exactly what I want. I didn’t bounce from failed relationships looking for something I couldn’t find because I didn’t really know myself. It’s been pretty easy.
And then, I thought some more.
Yes, my family faced my mom’s breast cancer diagnosis. And won. Yes, two years ago, I was misdiagnosed with a serious illness. Luckily for me, the mistake as caught in time. Yes, I’d be a fool to say that I haven’t experienced loss. I have.
However, none of those things are necessarily things I have overcome. I did, but I had help. I didn’t face any of those alone. And I think that the answer to Marina’s question should be something that I’ve done alone.
If asked, many people who knew me before I hit college age would describe me as quiet. Shy even, if they didn’t know me well. But once I got into college, and I studied what I was into, I came out of my shell.
I overcame being quiet and shy. I overcame voicelessness.
I’ll never be the person that actively seeks oodles of attention, but I am not often described as “shy”. If I am quiet, I am thinking, absorbing something that was said to me. Particularly if you are a person that I admire or see true genius in. At parties, if I am quiet, I don’t want to be there. But if you know me, you know that. I am often not quiet to be rude. Sometimes, quietness is just self-preservation at its finest.
In all though, I’ve overcome shyness. I know how to speak and that I can. I’ve always had ideas, and I’ve never had any trouble expressing them, but having ideas and telling my family was great. But what about beyond that secure place? What “good” was the idea if I only told people who bought into my notions and have a preconceived bias?
With encouragement, and college to help draw me out, I did. I began to use my voice. And I like it.
What do you remember?
I thought about this all day today. I wandered through my expansive memory bank trying to recall the earliest one. And then, it came to me. In it, I am around three years old. I was with my parents at Middleton’s Berry Farm, when it was on Stoney Creek Road in Oakland Township, Michigan. It was autumn, and we were there to select pumpkins. There was a children’s play area too with a straw bale mountain.
I remember playing on the bales and climbing to the top of the mountain. Once I reached it, I looked down at my mom and dad, who seemed a gazillion feet down, and I grinned. They clapped and snapped my photo. And then…I jumped! I jumped from the top of the straw bale mountain into the ocean of straw that surrounded it.
It was pure child joy. It was a type of joy that only kids can have and relish. My earliest memory is of perfect childhood joy.
What do you yearn for?
Personally, I yearn for continued health and happiness of my family. I want to see my parents enjoy their retirements together. I want them to travel and take zany photos in front of the country’s largest ball of ear wax.
I want to enjoy the life that I am building with my husband. I want to continue to get to know him and for us to have adventures together. I want him to think that I am nuts but still look at me with his beautiful brown eyes the light up when he sees me. I want to continue to build a family with him that will one day include children. I want to become a loony old lady, and I want him to be my loony old man.
Socially, I yearn for a world that is clean. I want human beings to learn from our history and stop repeating ugliness. I want my children to never know the words “bigot”, “racist”, and “sexist.” I want to see people of any race, gender, or class treated as equals by humanity and law.
I want women, all women, to have the freedom to make choices for their own wellbeing that aren’t governed by men in ivory towers.
I want all people to be able to love peacefully and discover their identities without scrutiny or shaming.
And I want people to stop damaging the planet with reckless abandon. I want to see the sun shine on the ocean without reflecting oil slicks and dead dolphins.
Apparently, I want a lot.
I was asked once to write an essay an about WWII. The prompt was an open-ended question that was something along the lines of “do ‘we’ deserve the sacrifice that was made during the war?” I yearn for the answer: “yes.”
That is my sixty second story.
I know that without a doubt this story will change. But this is what I am working on projecting into the world. If I project kindness, hope, and positivity, maybe it will boomerang back to me. I hope so. That’s another thing I yearn for I suppose.
As I go on and continue to work on this, my boomerang story, I will keep the word “remembrance” in mind. How do I want to be remembered?
My spirit animal, Amy Poehler, says “I want to be around people that do things. I don’t want to be around people anymore that judge or talk about what people do. I want to be around people that dream and support and do things.”
Moving forward, it will be more effective to be the things I want to be remembered for. After all, it is my story. My life is the book, and every single day is my latest chapter, my fresh page, and most importantly, my words.